Title & Author: What Can Be by Mary Calmes
Series: I’ll Be Home For Christmas (Dreamspinner Press’ 2011 Advent Calendar)
Release Date: December 1, 2011
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Book Blurb (from Goodreads):
Thirteen years ago, Eli went on a summer trip with his mother and never came back. Now, existing in a new life as Jacob Somerville, he’s again running from fear and memories, only to end up where he started. As Jacob struggles to reconnect with his father and brothers, he realizes that his lover, Craig Zhao, was the only thing filling his empty heart and standing between him and ghosts of the past. It will take the power of love—from his family, from Craig, and from himself—for Jacob to see that his life truly is filled with the promise of what can be.
This ain’t your typical Christmas story. In fact, I think it may have broken my brain. I need a minute to process my likes/dislikes before rating.
24 hours after reading…
Did I love it? Or, did I hate it? I still don’t know! Seriously. You can’t see me right now, but I have the most bewildered expression on my face.
The writing in this one felt kinda… sparse? But sometimes – especially nearer the beginning of the story as Calmes was establishing her characters and laying the trail of WTF? breadcrumbs for me – I reacted really positively to this method of storytelling. It felt refreshing. I was intrigued by the story (so many secrets, so much baggage!) AND by the way that she was telling it. Then, not too many pages later, the same bare bones technique was driving me bonkers and leaving me feeling cheated because I wasn’t getting the level of detail that I wanted in some scenes.
The dialogue was just as sparse. I often felt as if there were words or sentences that were left unsaid. On one hand, I was totally digging it because it felt like I was reading something that had finally captured that short hand that real people and real families use with one another. On the other hand, it was frickin’ disorienting.
And characters actions and reactions seemed to change almost by the paragraph. Just when I thought I had a character’s personality pegged, the next sentence out of their mouths or gesture of their bodies would be the complete opposite of what I was anticipating. Again, I found it disorienting. (Just as an example, Craig’s first phone call to Eli? I was convinced that the dude was a controlling, self-important asshat and that Eli was better off running in the opposite direction as far and as fast as he could. Then Craig would do or say something that had me shifting towards rooting for him. And then he’d do or say something that would have me shifting away from him again.) I felt like I was getting emotional whiplash.
(See what I mean about this story breaking my brain?!)
It also probably didn’t help that I felt like there were too many interactions between some characters and not enough between others, questions that went unanswered, and reactions I wish had been explored in greater depth. Not to mention the fact that I was really missing an epilogue to wrap things up with a big Christmas bow for me.
Ultimately, I think this story was great, but too layered and nuanced for a novella format. I’ve given it 4 stars, but only because my OCD wouldn’t allow me to leave it rating-less and I don’t know what else to do.